“The Best” has left us.
Tina Turner, the queen of rock ‘n roll, has died at the age of 83 after suffering from a long illness. Turner died at her home in Küsnacht outside Zurich, Switzerland.
“With her, the world loses a music legend and a role model,” Turner’s spokesman Bernard Doherty said in a statement.
Turner began her career with husband Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm in 1957 and performed under the stage name Little Ann before debuting as Tina Turner in 1960 with the single “A Fool in Love”. Tina and Ike Turner collaborated on the hits “River Deep, Mountain High”, “It’s Gonna Work Out Fine” and “Proud Mary” before disbanding in 1976.
Turner went on to launch a career comeback with the 1984 hit song “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” which won the Grammy for Record of the Year. The track gave the title to a 1993 biopic adapted from Turner’s autobiography “I, Tina: My Life Story”. Angela Bassett played the role of Turner in the film; Laurence Fishburne was cast as Ike Turner and the film vividly conveyed the years of physical abuse Ike inflicted on Tina.
“We’d do scenes over and over and over again,” Bassett recalled in 2022 of singing in character. “Those concert scenes, you literally feel like you have a sweater down your throat after you play, and we’d do it (again) top to bottom.”
Both Bassett and Fishburne received Academy Award nominations for their roles.
Turner has appeared in the films ‘Tommy’, ‘Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome’ and ‘Last Action Hero’. She formally retired after completing her Tina!: 50th Anniversary Tour in 2009. In 2018, Turner’s life story was made into the Broadway musical “Tina,” which was also the title of an HBO documentary directed by Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin. The documentary film debuted in 2021.
Turner’s voice was one so distinctive you’d recognize it without seeing it. Powerful and with a bit of twang, in songs like “River Deep, Mountain High” it felt like she could move the earth itself. Hers was a voice that could rise above Phil Spector’s wall of sound on “River Deep” and dominate it, a vocalist who also felt like a conductor.
And beyond those pipes, there were those movements. By now it has become an established tradition that those “Moves Like Jagger” really were the “Moves Like Turner”. With some restrained kineticism, he concocted the stiff-shouldered boogie-down grooves that Mick Jagger has shown in arenas around the world. Friends since the 1960s, Tina and Ike had performed with the Stones (and Tina also appears briefly in the documentary “Gimme Shelter”). She had all the makings of a solo pop star in her own right. But it took leaving Ike and a relentless work ethic to break through and do something nearly impossible: become that pop star in the mid-40s.
Really, who becomes a pop star with number one records and sold out arenas in the mid-40s? After they’ve already been in the music business for decades? Tina Turner did it. Her 1984 album for Capitol Records, “Private Dancer,” brought ’60s craftsmanship and explosiveness to ’80s pop. (It was a move Turner’s contemporary Aretha Franklin copied a year later with her electropop album “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?”) The album spawned seven singles, including “What’s Love Got to Do With It” and a version of “Help!” that will pierce you to the bone.
His film work reflected his shift in popularity. When she played the Acid Queen in Ken Russell’s “Tommy” in 1975, she was highlighting her status as something of a cult figure, revered for her artistry, but eccentric in the way that a truly mainstream celebrity would usually can not be. A decade later and on top of the world she co-stars with Mel Gibson in “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” sporting a spiky ’80s wig, riding a hotrod through the apocalyptic landscape, and oozing more than a little sexual menace for the hero of the film – she is the villain of the piece. She still brings a queer quality to that performance, but in a blockbuster mold.
It was made for movies. It’s a pity she didn’t do more. Her voice is essential to sing the soundtrack to “GoldenEye” to kick off Pierce Brosnan’s Bond era, hinting at all kinds of lust promised for the post-Cold War era. “You see reflections in the water / More than darkness in the depths,” she purrs, and it’s like a musical expression of the idea that the fall of communism is hot.
Which is all to say, that she has defiantly resisted the notion that she should be considered a victim of abuse, first and foremost, such as the media furor around her comeback, her memoir, and then the ” What does love have to do with this” film tried to convey. Also in the 2021 documentary “Tina” she resists talking too much about Ike’s abuse and implies that people wanting to talk about it endlessly was a form of abuse of her.
Turner needn’t have worried, even if she was dead from the media obsession with her. She was an irreducibly complex figure. Someone who could never be defined by one thing. And as the years went by, and she retreated from public life to her own home in Switzerland, she seemed to recognize that Tina Turner had become such a big idea, she didn’t need to actively fan the flames of her fame. Even before her death, Tina Turner had transcended her bodily life to be an idea, a legend, an immortal rumor.